The rapidly changing environment of Caples Lake, Calif.
August 4, 2008
Caples Lake is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, between Kit Carson Pass and the Kirkwood Ski Resort. It is about 50 miles south of Carson City, via a combination of U.S. 395, Nev. S.R. 88 and Calif. S.R. 88.
This large, high-mountain lake (elevation 8,000+’) has been the destination for many years for a countless multitude of people who have come to recreate in that general area including: Shore fishermen, boat fishermen, sail boaters, canoers, Kayakers, rafters, picnickers, overnight campers, flower lovers, photographers, day hikers, backpackers, mountain climbers, snowshoers, cross country skiers, or whatever else attracted them to recreate in this specific area.
The lake features the Caples Lake Resort with its cabins, small store and concrete boat ramp, plus a U.S. Forest Service Campground, just across the highway.
If you like to fish, Caples Lake has offered fishermen the challenge of being able to catch some very nice Lahontan cutthroat, Cuttbow (a hybrid crossbreed between a male Lahontan cutthroat trout and a female rainbow trout), Eastern brook, German brown, Mackinaw (lake) and rainbow trout.
As an example of the quality of the fish, the lake record for a Mackinaw is 26 pounds (39 inches), and the lake record for a German Brown is 13 pounds (30 inches).
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I have had the pleasure of fishing there many times, through the years, from shore or a boat or from my inflatable raft. Although, I’ve never caught a trophy-sized fish (like those records!), I have thoroughly enjoyed every outing, even those times when I got “Skunked.”
Just about every year some lucky (or highly skilled) angler has managed to catch a monster-sized Mackinaw trout in the 15+ pound class, sometimes even through the 3-4 foot winter ice.
All that is going to change, and unfortunately, not necessarily for the best, and here’s why:
El Dorado Irrigation District:
In a recent press release, the El Dorado Irrigation District said:
“Caples Lake is part of Project 184, the hydroelectric power generation system that the El Dorado Irrigation District (EID) acquired from Pacific Gas and Electric Company in 1999.
On July 1, this year, the District’s Board of Directors declared an emergency, after an underwater investigation at the lake revealed problems with two slide gates, located in a well-like shaft within the dam. Of particular concern is the lower gate that is 64 feet under water when the lake is full.
On July 19, EID began drawing down the waters of Caples Lake to prepare for the replacement of the deteriorated water gates. EID emphasizes that the dam structure itself is safe, however, those gates must be replaced.
The draw down is causing higher-than-normal water flows for this time of the year for Caples Creek and the Silver Fork American River, located in the Eldorado National Forest.
Boating and angling on the lake will be affected, and travelers along the highway will see much more shore and much less water.”
Some Don Q thoughts:
The quote: “Boating and angling on the lake will be affected, and travelers along the highway will see much more shore and much less water,” has to be one of the biggest understatements of the year.
Caples Lake is going to change from a very scenic high mountain lake to a big, ugly mud puddle.
The draw down of the water which began on July 19, when the lake contained some 17,500 acre feet of water, will continue until late in September when it is scheduled to be reduced all the way down to 584 acre feet of water.
That’s correct, that is not a misprint, it will drop from 17,500 acre feet to only 584 acre feet.
You can bet the ranch that “Boating and angling will be affected.” You can also bet the ranch that “travelers along the highway will also see much more shore and much less water.” Big time!
More importantly, the fisheries of that lake will be seriously impacted. A number of folks with close ties to Caples Lake have told me they have not seen or heard of any plans (as of this date) to try to save the lake’s fish population by transplanting them to other waters. Nor have I.
Plus, when that lake is finally drawn all the way down and winter arrives with its 3-4 feet of ice on the remaining little bit of water, some of them are correctly asking: “What in the heck are the surviving fish supposed to breathe?”
If there are no plans to try to save the lake’s fish population, this has all the earmarks of becoming an interesting public relations situation for EID, plus the Calif. Dept. of Fish and Game (DFG).
I sure hope they have thick skins, because they are going to need them when the general public finds out that a huge, thriving population of trophy-sized trout will be killed by the action (or lack of action) of EID and DFG.
If I can offer a suggestion, the Ormsby Sportsmen’s Association (OSA) of Carson City currently has 364 paid-up members, and I can assure EID, DFG and the general public that a large number of those 364 OSA members (including me) would be more than willing to donate time and labor and money to help transport those fish to some other location in an attempt to save them. There has to be some nearby waters where those Caples Lake fish could be transplanted.
So, if EID and/or DFG can’t afford to transplant those trout or lack the manpower to do so, I’m sure that OSA (and many other sportsmen’s organizations) will be willing to step up to bat to help before it is too late to save a viable fishing population.
So, how about it, EID and DFG, how does that offer sound?
For EID project information, call Deanne Kloepfer at (530) 622-4513 or go to http://www.eid.org.
For Caples Lake information, call the Caples Lake Resort at (209) 258-8888 or go to capleslake.wordpress.com.
• Bet Your Favorite Pigeon
Bet your favorite pigeon that he can’t tell you who is the current OSA president.
If he grins and says, “Don Quilici is the OSA president,” he could be one of those 364 members.
• Don Quilici is the Outdoors editor for the Nevada Appeal